Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Unquiet Brain

I wrote much of the post below a couple of months ago, when I was at rock bottom and off of my medications due to a lack of insurance. I'm better now, much better. If you or someone you love has mental illness, please, for the love of all that's holy- get help and take your meds. Please. 

I have a mental illness. A couple, actually, with PTSD and anxiety being the bigger ones. Normally, I am in control of it. I take medication because I love myself and my family enough to know that's what's best for me. Mental illness is a really nasty bitch. It is an unwanted or sometimes unnoticed houseguest who takes up too much space in my head, appearing when I have things to do, a life to live, and kids to raise.

People have this preconceived notion of what it looks like, of how to be "crazy." I'm usually not that image- a 30something mother of two, well spoken, with some anxiety. People don't see me out of control. They can't read my thoughts, which dance across my brain like an out of control ticker tape. 

It makes me believe that there is kind of beauty to nearly losing myself. And maybe there is, but I haven't found it. Sometimes it's freeing to rant, scream, and rave, to speak in non sequiturs. But then, after, I see the faces of the people I've hurt and know that this time, I might have gone too far. I can't take any of that back. I can apologize, take my damn meds and swear that this "thing" won't ever happen again. 

But it will, because the only thing certain about being mentally ill is that it will continue to happen. You can't wish or positively think it away. It's not just about being sad, or being anxious. But it's also not like the movies.

When I'm in control of it, mental illness is a bother, but maybe not so much a big deal. Mania can be fun, to an extent. I once spent 24 hours straight, carving pumpkins into complicated designs. The kids loved them. My husband, I think, saw it for what it was and knew that no amount of sleep lost was worth that reaction from the boys. 

To acknowledge that all of it, held tightly in check with medications, is spiraling out of control is awful. Knowing that my babbling to my husband or mother has gone past the point where anything makes sense makes me feel insecure beyond belief, but I just can't stop. I speak in circles, stim like crazy, and pace until my legs burn. I stay awake for days, one thought tripping over into the next until I'm so mixed up, I have a hard time remembering what I'm supposed to be doing. 

Mania tricks me into thinking that being unmedicated is the best option. My senses and thoughts aren't dulled by by the chemicals and I believe myself to finally be healthy. That I've shed these layers of stuff. But I haven't. Those layers are still there, with crystal sharp clarity, though I cannot see them for what they are- thoughts which should be examined, impulses controlled, and tears unshed. That thinking is when I'm at my worst. 

It isn't just the mania or the anxiety which wreck havoc on my brain. It's like walking a tightrope over an abyss that you're afraid to venture into. The knowing that I am completely out of control, that this time might be the time I step too far over the edge, compounds itself into an ugly paste which spreads all over me. I get incredibly angry with myself, but I try to never let go enough to really cry.  Mental illness tells me that crying is weak.

Mental illness can be so wrong. 

I once lied to my therapist so convincingly, he proclaimed me "healthy." I lied so well, I believed him. I told Thomas that I was "good." I was just tired of talking. 

I wound up in that office a year later, begging to be fixed. And I was. And so, things were okay for a while. Well, as okay as they can be. I'd trip up and not take my meds and screw something up, or I'd take them late and make Thomas worry. But still, I was that image of control I needed, with a few exceptions. I happily involved myself with the kids' lives even more than I already was, I relaxed some, and I had fun with life.

But then, last fall, my husband lost his job. We lost our income, our insurance, and my idea of our stability. I lost my meds, my lifeline.

I was drowning and couldn't ask for the life raft. Oh, I thought I put on a pretty great front. I was wrong. I distanced myself from friends and family. I stopped wanting to talk to anyone, even my closest friends and sister. I was everywhere, all at once, in conversations. I paced like my life depended on it. I set alarms for everything on my phone, afraid I'd forget something. I had Thomas take the kids out, just so I could breathe. But I couldn't breathe. I could only pretend.

And I pretended really well. But pretending isn't living, it's only being able to survive.

I had the worst panic attack in recent memory on my birthday. Something stupid, something incredibly little, set me off so badly I screamed and ranted at Thomas in a voice I didn't recognize. I tried to walk away- I got out of the car in traffic. I got back in, later, and told him to take me home. I needed to be alone.

That day, I realized that I'd lost that tenuous grip I'd been keeping. I scared the hell out of myself.   Three weeks later, he got his new job. There was hope. There was a hell of an insurance package.

We moved across the south. I've been trying to get a grip on things since and I'm doing pretty well. Today, I was able to get back on the medications I desperately need in order to quiet my brain. Within an hour of taking my meds, my brain, normally so mired in crap, was quieter. I'm hopeful it stays that way.

Folks, being mentally ill doesn't always mean what the books tell us. I'm a reliable person, for the most part. I take excellent care of my children.  I love my family and want to be actively involved in their lives and my own, not just a spectator. And so, I take my damn meds.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Doing Enough

Sometimes, I look at the search strings which lead people to this blog. Usually, they are funny, though strange, and I get a good chuckle out of them ("burn all of the Thomas trains" is a favorite). However, today I saw the string, "I don't do enough for my autistic son." I felt pain reading that, a familiar pain which is usually throbbing dully inside of my heart and increasing my anxiety tenfold.

I think, as parents, a majority of us feel like we could be doing more to help our children. When one of our kids has specialized needs, though, that worry is probably amplified. We often turn to social media as a measuring point, whether we intend that or not. That's probably not the healthiest thing to do.

 I felt that a checklist, in no particular order, would be handy to tell if you're doing enough.

1. Is your kid happy?
2. Is your kid safe?
3. Is your kid in a nourishing and encouraging environment?
4. Does your child express, through vocalizations or movements, that they feel comfortable in their environment?
5. Are your child's immediate needs (clothing, food, shelter, and education) being met?
6. Is he or she being allowed to experience childhood, in their own way?

If you answered "yes" to these, then I would say that you are doing enough. Could you be doing more? Of course, but don't allow the drive to do more be a detriment to your child or you.

Don't look to your neighbor to compare. Your child is an individual with individual needs, and shouldn't be evaluated by what someone else is doing. I'm incredibly guilty of doing this, more so in the past than present.

Lately, I've been trying hard to let go of doubts about my care for Morgan and Bailey, who has his own special needs. I know when I do wrong, but I'm trying to focus on what I'm doing right. Morgan dictates, through his emotional well being and progress with new challenges or old, how he's doing, as does his brother. Letting go of preconceived notions is making me a better parent, or at least a far more relaxed parent.

Morgan's happy, for the most part. He's a prepubescent boy, though, so his emotions change like the Virginia weather. His needs are being met. He's getting an incredibly appropriate education, he's nourished, and he appears to be thriving. That's good enough, for now. Should new challenges present themselves, we will meet them head on.

But, some might ask, what about socialization and getting "on level?"

First, "on level" is a subjective term that means something different to everyone. Is your child lagging in subjects? Does he or she appear to need another therapy stacked on top of the ones he or she is already receiving? Does he or she vocalize or emote that he or she feels the need to be surrounded by people? Or feel the need to interact with others after school?

If the answer is "no," than let things be. It's hard to make friends in an environment that's focused on the "proper" way to play. It's hard to thrive when your entire life is scheduled. If your child could benefit from something like what is mentioned above, then go for it. But watch for signs of burn out. Too much therapy is just as detrimental to the well being of a child as not enough.

Finally, don't beat yourself up and cast so many doubts upon your parenting that you cannot see how well you're raising your autistic child. Also, don't take too much advice from the internet (yes, I see what I did there). None of the people in the peanut galleries know your child like you do. Don't allow someone whom you've never met to cast doubts upon your parenting. They aren't the person raising your child.

Allow your child to see you happy and confident while you're parenting. That helps, a lot. And, honestly? We're all making this stuff up as we go.